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Some 200 laid off at North Las Vegas Amonix solar plant

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Justin M. Bowen

Gov. Brian Sandoval addresses the crowd during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Amonix, a California-based solar power company that recently opened its new North Las Vegas facility, Tuesday, May 17, 2011.

Updated Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 | 5:50 p.m.

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  • Amonix Solar Power Ribbon Cutting

    Gov. Brian Sandoval addresses the crowd during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Amonix, a California-based solar power company that recently opened its new North Las Vegas facility, Tuesday, May 17, 2011. Launch slideshow »

    Just seven months after California-based solar power company Amonix Inc. opened its largest manufacturing plant, in North Las Vegas, the company’s contractor has laid off nearly two-thirds of its workforce.

    Flextronics Industrial, the Singapore manufacturing service provider that partnered with Amonix to staff the new $18 million, 214,000-square-foot plant, laid off about 200 of its 300-plus employees Tuesday.

    Amonix’s director of manufacturing operations, Eric Culberson, said the layoffs are part of “retooling” the factory as the company prepares to roll out its next-generation product.

    “The new 8700 utility-scale CPV solar power system is a higher efficiency and lower cost,” Culberson said. “Once it is ready, we will ramp back up to meet the demands of the industry.”

    Culberson said the job cuts are temporary and expects to begin hiring more people in the second half of the year to meet demand.

    The company scaled down at all levels of employment at the plant — which was hiring as recently as three months ago — from entry level assemblers, process engineers, production supervisors and quality-control techs, according to one employee who was laid off.

    Culberson said layoffs were made across the board.

    Theodore Lewis, another employee, was working at the plant for six months before he and dozens of other employees were called into a mandatory meeting Tuesday.

    “There was no excuse,” said Lewis, 34, who was never told his job was temporary. “They just said our job was done.”

    Lewis said employees were confused and disappointed when they heard the news and were directed by human resources to look for other local jobs in retail.

    The Las Vegas resident, who worked various assembly jobs at the plant, said it took him more than a month to secure the job last year and is frustrated to be back at square one.

    “It’s setting me back,” Lewis said. “Now I have to fish for another job. It was hard getting that job and now this."

    With a promise to bring hundreds of clean energy jobs and boost the hard-hit North Las Vegas economy, the plant was heralded as a success earlier this month by Mayor Shari Buck in her state of the city address.

    Buck said Wednesday that she was aware of the layoffs but has faith the company will bring back the jobs.

    “They were temporary employees brought in to handle a major project,” she said. “Amonix is taking the opportunity to automate their system better and get ready for the next big project. I expect Amonix to continue to be successful and have a great future in their solar production.”

    Amonix and Flextronics opened shop in May 2011 at the Golden Triangle Industrial Park near Craig Road and Interstate 15 in North Las Vegas to a warm welcome from U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., Gov. Brian Sandoval and Buck.

    Amonix received a $5.9 million investment tax credit through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in 2010, and another $12 million in private capital helped finance the plant.

    Together, the two companies manufacture concentrated photovoltaic solar power systems, producing about four solar panel arrays — each 50 feet by 72 feet — a day. The Amonix 7700 systems were estimated to generate enough solar energy to power up to 30 homes.

    Many of the solar panels are shipped to clients in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, but the company has built solar arrays for UNLV, NV Energy and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    Although the company originally said it was working to secure contracts with the new water reclamation facility and the Veterans Affairs hospital under construction in North Las Vegas, Culberson would not comment on the status of the local projects.

    Last month, Amonix CEO Brian Robertson was killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania. An Amonix spokeswoman said the layoffs were in process before he died. Jan van Dokkum, an operating partner with venture capital firm KPCB, was named interim CEO.

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    1. Someone needs to keep an eye on this and then it will be news if they DON'T hire for the new projects.

      If I remember correctly they received incentives to open in that location. If they don't rehire, take back the incentives.

    2. Too bad they ran out of stimulus money just when Obama shows up in town. Karma hits hard. A green mirage evaporates in front of our eyes. Drill and dig for real jobs, just like we have always done.

    3. Please somebody tell me no Nevada or North Las Vegas or Clark County tax dollars, or tax concessions, or redevelopment money of any kind were given to this company to induce it to locate in North Las Vegas.

      And for the 200 people to be laid off on the day President Barack Obama is in Clark County, touting alternative energy as a job creator for America...so sad for all involved.

    4. tommyguns needs to stop making stories up about this and join reality for a change.

    5. Well this is sad, but those of us who do not believe that solar manufacturing tech is ready for prime time saw it coming. Perhaps we were wrong? The lay off may say we were right but let's see where they are in a year. Investors are having a tough time putting money into solar except for those who are using it as a tax haven and do not really care how it performs.

      Solar is in it's infancy except in space and military and governmental applications where money and manpower is often not an object.

      Desert installations must fight high gusty winds and grit and harsh constantly direct sunlight and then additional extremes of cold at night all that can prematurely degrade the arrays etc. It is interesting to drive down to the CA desert and see lines of wind turbines sitting idle while an occasional turbine stirs in the in variable desert winds.

      I am waiting for reliable wave tech using ocean tides/waves to produce a more constant reliable power.

    6. The automobile industry wasn't any better in 2008-2009 and they had been making cars for over 100 years. The mortgage industry caused one of the greatest recessions in 70 years due to faulty loans that that business has existed even longer.

      The automobile, mortgage, banking and insurance industries laid off 10s of millions of people and destroyed their savings and future. Just another sign of the times, the reward of 8 years of leadership by George W. Bush, the De-regulator. We're still feeling the pinch.

    7. Gez, this is incredibly bad! The whole situation smells bad, and it really looks like Amonix had other plans when they opened shop in North Las Vegas. The next question is how are all the political leaders involved in this mess? Where are their statements about Amonix letting "some 200 employees" go? Let's clear the air here!

      Somehow, the Citizens are choking over the very weak story of "retooling" after only six months of opperation, and did this company HIRED these +/- 200 employees under a "temporary employment" clause as a condition to be employed? The Las Vegas Sun reporter, Aida Ahmed, did not bother to provide this information for clarification.

      Certainly the plane crash of Amonix's CEO casts a shadow upon the whole scenerio, as Bob Realist pointed out.

      Ocean wave power generation has been around for quite a while, and considering the vast coastlines that border the USA, it makes real sense to view it as a dependable and viable technology to generation green energy. Geothermal is rising in popularity as well. Wind and solar are expensive technologies, of the two, you can always depend on the sun rising each day, as is the motion of ocean currents.

      Indeed, Amonix bears watching, as VegasLee suggested. There are too many taxpayer dollars paid or credited to them, and they MUST be held accountable.

      Blessings and Peace,
      Star

    8. I am really mystified at the thought processes of some of the commenters here.

      A new business opens last year. They are a new green energy source of power.

      They are struggling and re-working and re-shaping in order to stay in business; ultimately resorting to a temporary lay off of workers.

      But, all of a sudden, mainly because this is some sort of energy that is clean and does not rely upon coal/gas/oil, something the Tea/Republican Party runs interference for them corporate barons, it fits an agenda to turn it around against President Obama and his administration?

      And as they do this, they conveniently overlook mention that the employee from Jones Vargas, oops, I mean, Governor Sandoval was at the ribbon cutting.

      Really transparent, right wing nutballs.

      A business runs into a rocky road time, but blame don't go to a Tea/Republican. They only get credit. ALL BLAME GOES TO THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY. Don't matter if it's true or not, just the way it goes.

      Nice try, Tea/Republicans.

      I am committed to casting my vote to absolutely crush your stupid party in November 2012.

      I hope everyone else sees the dumb hypocrisies, lies, untruths, propaganda and empty promises you spew all the time that seem to always be hatched in the back rooms of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's radio show.

      Time to make the Tea/Republicans wander around aimlessly here in the Nevada desert with nothing to do but self-reflect on how dumb they are. At least for a generation or so. Until they figure out how to contribute to society, and not continually destroy it...all in order to get back into power...so they can do nothing and point fingers at the other side of the aisle.

      Bring on the elections. I'm more than ready to cast my vote to absolutely throw them all out of power on every level. Get them out to go after the rich. Class warfare, baby. They started it. I'm gonna help finish it. Get registered to vote, people. Get ready. We got work to do to fix America.

    9. T attempted to switch to solar this year. Even after getting a partial grant from Nevada Energy and the Federal Tax Credit the payback period would have been over 15 years adjusting electricity for a 6% annual inflation increase. Solar is still not a viable competitor to Oil and Gas powered plants. Once the payback reaches 5 years (and at some point it will) look for a massive changeover.
      Giving Incentives to any business must always be matched to performance and claw-back if its not met.

    10. @vegaslee: Do Nevada's relocation incentives even have a clawback clause in them?

    11. Seems to me that this isn't an evil, cash stripping scheme. I think they would go through the $18 million mentioned in the story through the purchase and/or building of a 200,000 sf facility, along with equipment and employing 300 people for 6 months. Although at 65%, this is pretty large, resizing a workforce is pretty common in the first year, or so. Don't casinos routinely overstaff for their openings by about 20%?

      I think a better question would be if the company has enough work to continue to operate as a going concern in it's new configuration.

      I'm not sure what the issue is about workers not knowing if they were permanent or temporary employees. Does the law say they should be treated differently if they are separated from the company in a year, or less?

    12. my guess is they were waiting on a new round of stimulus for solar, the employees must know they are part of that. No worry, they can collect a couple years worth of UE now.

    13. Yeah, Becker, it's "still" George W.'s fault. I bet you used to whine when you were late with your homework that "the dog ate it." The toll of failed "stimulous-money-backed" companies is growing every day. The latest is some electric car company that declared bankruptcy as soon as the tax dollars were spent. And who in the federal bureaucracy checks to see if the tax dollars actually were used for the purpose intended? No one. The Osama Obama administration doesn't even have the intelligence to "trust, but verify," and we should "trust" it with our health insurance? Give me a break! Let's send Osama Obaama packing in November, folks.

    14. Right Fink. And the stock market crash of 1929 was not FDR's fault either. Herbert Hoover did almost nothing for 3 1/2 years after that crash, resulting in a depression that grew larger all the time. Hoover's principals for recovery were 'Do Nothing'. Punish the people of America for what Wall Street did.

      When FDR took over in 1933, enrollment in the Fascist and Communist Parties was climbing fast. Banks continue to close at increasing rates - but Republicans claim that FDR extended the depression. What a laugh.

      In the summer of 1932, Hoover used the US Military to break up the Bonus Army, 43,000 WWI Vets who had come to Washington to demand immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. The US Army was called in by Hoover to burn their camp. Hoover's reaction was fear and violence, which was waiting for the rest of the country if they organized, but he lost the election instead.

      Hoover did nothing and watched while millions lost their jobs, their homes were thrown out into the street - and the GOP claims FDR's policies extended the Great Depression. Romney would have followed Hoover's footsteps, particularly in the housing market: "Let it hit bottom". There is no Bottom.

      The GOP still behave exactly the same way. They have what is called "Faith". If the theory doesn't work, continue to re-apply it over and over, regardless of the outcome and wait for success.